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Mystic Valley cleared of Open Meeting complaint

Demonstrators chant during a meeting of the Mystic Valley Regional Charter School Board in support of the young Black women who've been disciplined for their hair styles. The Board of Trustees then went into executive session. Josh Reynolds for The Boston Globe (Metro, ) 5/21/17

Josh Reynolds for The Boston Globe

Demonstrators chant during a May 21 meeting before the Mystic Valley Regional Charter School Board Of Trustees went into executive session.

The state attorney general’s office has found that a Malden charter school’s trustees did not violate the state Open Meeting Law during a private session that resulted in the suspension of a hair policy that had drawn condemnation from several civil rights groups.

A June 19 complaint filed with Attorney General Maura Healey’s office alleged the Mystic Valley Regional Charter School’s Board of Trustees ignored public meeting laws when it held a closed-door session to discuss possible legal fallout from the school’s controversial policy that punished students, most of them black or biracial, for wearing hair extensions.

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Following a meeting between school officials and the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education’s Civil Rights Division, and a letter from Healey directing the school to stop enforcing the rule, the board met in executive session May 21 to discuss “potential litigation,” according to the Aug. 1 decision issued by Assistant Attorney General Hanne Rush.

“Immediately following its closed-door session, a school official announced to the media and members of the public in attendance that it had suspended its hair/makeup policy for the remainder of the school year in order to avoid litigation,” Hanne’s decision states.

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Paul Schlichtman, a member of the Arlington School Committee, filed the complaint with Healey’s office, saying the Mystic Valley board should have held the meeting in public session.

Hanne concluded that the board had operated within the law, which allows public bodies to meet in private to discuss collective bargaining, litigation, and certain other matters when public disclosure could have a detrimental effect on their positions.

While the school had legitimate concerns about lawsuits from the hair policy, Schlichtman said, the closed meeting went beyond legal strategy.

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“They were debating policy, in my opinion, and I don’t think that the attorney general got this quite right,” he said. “It’s a public body.”

In discussing the policy while avoiding public scrutiny, board members were able to escape accountability for their positions on an issue that drew international controversy, Schlichtman said.

There were no responses to voicemails and e-mails to members of the Mystic Valley board requesting comment regarding the attorney general office’s ruling.

An agenda posted on the school website for the board’s next meeting, scheduled for 6 p.m. on Sunday, Aug. 13, includes an executive session “to discuss strategy for, and potential resolution of, imminently threatened litigation, the discussion of which in an Open meeting would have a detrimental effect on the school’s position.”

Sean Teehan can be reached at spteehan@gmail.com.
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